Anchorage celebrates African American Soldiers' Contribution to Building the Alaska Highway Day
The idea for the Alaska Highway began in 1938 when President Roosevelt created the Alaskan International Highway Commission. It launched America's greatest engineering feat of the modern era, which was not easy to complete.
On Thursday, the Alaska Highway Project and the Anchorage Museum of History and Art held a reading of "Frozen History," a true story about the black soldiers who built the Alaska Highway in 1942. The reading was in the soldiers' own words and words crafted by their relatives.
At the event, attendees learned many of the 4,000 other segregated black soldiers stories who helped build a highway across Alaska and Canada during World War II, a contribution largely ignored for decades.
The event focused on Senate Bill 46 which is: "An act establishing October 25th, of each year as "African American Soldiers' Contribution to Building the Alaska Highway Day."
The project to build a supply route between Alaska and Canada used 11,000 troops from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers divided by race, working under a backdrop of segregation and discrimination. The soldiers connected the road in Canada’s Yukon Territory east of the border of what was then the U.S. territory of Alaska.
In harsh conditions and tough terrain, it took African-American soldiers working from the north just over eight months to meet up with white soldiers coming from the south to connect the two segments on Oct. 25, 1942. The 1,500-mile route set the foundation for the only land link to Alaska.
According to historians, before the project, black soldiers were considered incapable of front-line duty or sensitive deployments and were largely relegated to housekeeping and clerk duties. However, a shortage of men prompted the deployment of black soldiers to help carve out the initial route.
Educators with the Alaska Highway Project say there is a lot to learn from this important time in history.
"They will learn that this is Alaska hidden figure's story, and Alaska really was the first road to civil rights, because President Truman declared that the Army would be desegregated after their fine work and that was very important,” said Shala Dobson.
The next step for the Alaska Highway Project is building a memorial so people can remember the men who worked on the Alaska Highway. However, funding for that is still up in the air.
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